EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Monoscopic terrestrial time-lapse cameras: an effective tool for surveying glacier surface velocity

Niccolò Dematteis1, Fabrizio Troilo2, Riccardo Scotti3, Davide Colombarolli3, Daniele Giordan1, and Valter Maggi4
Niccolò Dematteis et al.
  • 1Research Institute for Geo-hydrological Protection, National Research Council of Italy
  • 2Fondazione Montagna Sicura
  • 3Servizio Glaciologico Lombardo
  • 4University of Milano-Bicocca

Glacier surface velocity is a crucial information to assess the impact of global warming on glaciers, since it is related to the ice thickness; its variations provide information on mass balance and, in general, on the current state of glacier “health”. Moreover, velocity anomalies are often an indicator of glacier instabilities. Therefore, attention has been dedicated to surveying glacier velocity. Historically, surface velocity was the first quantitative variable measured on glaciers since the 19th century, using phototheodolites. In the last decades, terrestrial monoscopic digital time-lapse cameras (TLC) have permitted to conduct automatic surveying for long periods at high spatial and temporal resolutions using digital image correlation. Even though terrestrial time-lapse imagery is currently a consolidated technique in glacier monitoring, the number of dedicated publications is relatively small. In particular, possible strategies, limitations and potentialities have never been systematically reviewed.

This work aims to illustrate the typical procedures required to monitor glacier surface velocity using terrestrial monoscopic TLC, which can be synthetically listed as: 1) correct deployment of the equipment and image acquisition; 2) data pre-processing: 2.1) image selection, 2.2) colour/feature enhancement and 2.3) image registration; 3) data processing: displacement measurement using image correlation; 4) data post-processing: 4.1) outlier correction, 4.2) image geocoding and 4.3) time-series extraction. We describe possible inconveniences that can arise during the survey – e.g., image misregistration, distortion and defocusing, illumination and chromatic variation (shadows, snow patches), presence of outliers, and geocoding issues – and provide some guide lines to minimise such problematics. We present six study cases in the European Alps – Planpincieux, Grandes Jorasses, Freney and Brenva glaciers in the Mont Blanc massif, and Western and Eastern Fellaria glaciers in the Bernina massif – that feature different monitoring equipment, site geometry and glacier morphodynamics to illustrate possible solutions for terrestrial imagery monitoring.

The results revealed that terrestrial TLC provided high spatial resolution and acquisition frequency to detect small kinematic sectors and fast-occurring velocity anomalies, which would be difficult to identify using alternative approaches (e.g., satellites or topographic). However, like other passive optical sensors, the principal limitation is that they are affected by poor visibility and cannot acquire during the night. This study highlighted the great potentiality of TLC in glacier kinematics surveying, which can be conducted using either professional cameras or low-cost webcam and IP cameras, according to the scope and financial availability. The contained costs and ease of installation make TLC a very high benefit-to-cost tool and permit the development of strategies for widespread glacier monitoring at a regional scale with relatively low financial efforts.

How to cite: Dematteis, N., Troilo, F., Scotti, R., Colombarolli, D., Giordan, D., and Maggi, V.: Monoscopic terrestrial time-lapse cameras: an effective tool for surveying glacier surface velocity, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-13783,, 2023.